Genius Awards 1920-2017

Named in honor of San Francisco 49ers offensive innovator and organizational mastermind Bill Walsh, the Genius Award goes to the top head coach every season. For many publications, the coach of the year award doesn’t seem to have any concrete set of criteria. The qualifications are often nebulous and internally inconsistent, and far too much credit is given for simple reversion to the mean. Oftentimes, the media and public at large establish a set of expectations for a team, assume those expectations were correct, and award or deride a coach for going above or falling below those expectations. Moreover, if a coach does the necessary work to build and maintain a strong team, he rarely wins an award (because of course he won a bunch of games with that great team). When considering choices for the Genius Award, I didn’t want to give it to flash in the pan coaches who came to a new team after a terrible year and looked like a magician for adding wins the team probably would have picked up anyway. As a Bayesian, I’m much more likely to believe a coach is actually good at what he does if he is able to do it for more than just one year. As with my other awards, I do take into account what happens in the postseason, because it happened and it is important. Expect to see more repeat winners than you are used to seeing from major publications.

Genius Award Winners

The table below lists every Genius Award winner since 1920. Read it thus: In 1920, coaching in the NFL,1 Elgie Tobin of the Akron Pros won his first Genius Award.

YearLeagueCOTYTeam#
1920NFLElgie TobinAkron Pros1
1921NFLTommy HughittBuffalo All-Americans1
1922NFLGuy ChamberlinCanton Bulldogs1
1923NFLGuy ChamberlinCanton Bulldogs2
1924NFLPunk BerrymanFrankford Yellow Jackets1
1925NFLDick RauchPottsville Maroons1
1926NFLGuy ChamberlinFrankford Yellow Jackets3
1927NFLEarl PotteigerNew York Giants1
1928NFLRoy AndrewsDetroit Wolverines1
1929NFLRoy AndrewsNew York Giants2
1930NFLCurly LambeauGreen Bay Packers1
1931NFLCurly LambeauGreen Bay Packers2
1932NFLRalph JonesChicago Bears1
1933NFLSteve OwenNew York Giants1
1934NFLGeorge HalasChicago Bears1
1935NFLPotsy ClarkDetroit Lions1
1936NFLCurly LambeauGreen Bay Packers3
1937NFLGeorge HalasChicago Bears2
1938NFLSteve OwenNew York Giants2
1939NFLRay FlahertyWashington1
1940NFLGeorge HalasChicago Bears3
1941NFLGeorge HalasChicago Bears4
1942NFLRay FlahertyWashington2
1943NFLHunk AndersonChicago Bears1
1944NFLGreasy NealePhiladelphia Eagles1
1945NFLAdam WalshCleveland Rams1
1946NFLGeorge HalasChicago Bears5
1946AAFCPaul BrownCleveland Browns1
1947NFLJimmy ConzelmanChicago Cardinals1
1947AAFCPaul BrownCleveland Browns2
1948NFLGreasy NealePhiladelphia Eagles2
1948AAFCPaul BrownCleveland Browns3
1949NFLGreasy NealePhiladelphia Eagles3
1949AAFCPaul BrownCleveland Browns4
1950NFLPaul BrownCleveland Browns5
1951NFLPaul BrownCleveland Browns6
1952NFLBuddy ParkerDetroit Lions1
1953NFLPaul BrownCleveland Browns7
1954NFLPaul BrownCleveland Browns8
1955NFLPaul BrownCleveland Browns9
1956NFLPaddy DriscollChicago Bears1
1957NFLPaul BrownCleveland Browns10
1958NFLWeeb EwbankBaltimore Colts1
1959NFLWeeb EwbankBaltimore Colts2
1960NFLBuck ShawPhiladelphia Eagles1
1960AFLLou RymkusHouston Oilers1
1961NFLVince LombardiGreen Bay Packers1
1961AFLLou RymkusHouston Oilers2
1962NFLVince LombardiGreen Bay Packers2
1962AFLHank StramDallas Texans1
1963NFLAllie ShermanNew York Giants1
1963AFLSid GillmanSan Diego Chargers1
1964NFLDon ShulaBaltimore Colts1
1964AFLLou SabanBuffalo Bills1
1965NFLVince LombardiGreen Bay Packers3
1965AFLLou SabanBuffalo Bills2
1966NFLTom LandryDallas Cowboys1
1966AFLHank StramKansas City Chiefs2
1967NFLGeorge AllenLos Angeles Rams1
1967AFLJohn RauchOakland Raiders1
1968NFLDon ShulaBaltimore Colts2
1968AFLWeeb EwbankNew York Jets3
1969NFLBud GrantMinnesota Vikings1
1969AFLHank StramKansas City Chiefs3
1970NFLBud GrantMinnesota Vikings2
1971NFLTom LandryDallas Cowboys2
1972NFLDon ShulaMiami Dolphins3
1973NFLChuck KnoxLos Angeles Rams1
1974NFLChuck NollPittsburgh Steelers1
1975NFLChuck NollPittsburgh Steelers2
1976NFLJohn MaddenOakland Raiders1
1977NFLRed MillerDenver Broncos1
1978NFLTom LandryDallas Cowboys3
1979NFLDon CoryellSan Diego Chargers1
1980NFLDick VermeilPhiladelphia Eagles1
1981NFLBill WalshSan Francisco 49ers1
1982NFLJoe GibbsWashington1
1983NFLJoe GibbsWashington2
1984NFLBill WalshSan Francisco 49ers2
1985NFLMike DitkaChicago Bears1
1986NFLBill ParcellsNew York Giants1
1987NFLBill WalshSan Francisco 49ers3
1988NFLSam WycheCincinnati Bengals1
1989NFLGeorge SeifertSan Francisco 49ers1
1990NFLMarv LevyBuffalo Bills1
1991NFLJoe GibbsWashington3
1992NFLJimmy JohnsonDallas Cowboys1
1993NFLJimmy JohnsonDallas Cowboys2
1994NFLGeorge SeifertSan Francisco 49ers2
1995NFLMarty SchottenheimerKansas City Chiefs1
1996NFLMike HolmgrenGreen Bay Packers1
1997NFLMike ShanahanDenver Broncos1
1998NFLDenny GreenMinnesota Vikings1
1999NFLDick VermeilSt. Louis Rams2
2000NFLJon GrudenOakland Raiders1
2001NFLDick JauronChicago Bears1
2002NFLAndy ReidPhiladelphia Eagles1
2003NFLBill BelichickNew England Patriots1
2004NFLBill BelichickNew England Patriots2
2005NFLTony DungyIndianapolis Colts1
2006NFLMarty SchottenheimerSan Diego Chargers2
2007NFLBill BelichickNew England Patriots3
2008NFLTom CoughlinNew York Giants1
2009NFLSean PaytonNew Orleans Saints1
2010NFLBill BelichickNew England Patriots4
2011NFLJim HarbaughSan Francisco 49ers1
2012NFLJim HarbaughSan Francisco 49ers2
2013NFLPete CarrollSeattle Seahawks1
2014NFLBruce AriansArizona Cardinals1
2015NFLRon RiveraCarolina Panthers1
2016NFLBill BelichickNew England Patriots5
2017NFLDoug PedersonPhiladelphia Eagles1

Many legendary coaches are famed for winning many games and titles. Some are revered for innovating and changing the way the game is played. Paul Brown did both, and he did both better than just about anyone ever did either. He won ten Genius Awards, which is twice as many as anyone else.

Papa Bear George Halas coached in over 500 NFL games and held the record for games one until Don Shula eventually usurped him. He won titles with revolutionary offenses, he won titles with suffocating defenses, and he won titles with a balance of both.

Bill Belichick is probably the most brilliant game planner in history, and his grasp over both the rulebook and the capabilities of his own roster are peerless. Like Halas, made it to title games and won championships with drastically different teams. He has found success in the salary cap era in a way that no one comes close to approaching, and it is the brilliance of his mental flexibility that has allowed him to exploit inefficiencies for compounding small edges.

The most popular coaching award comes from the Associated Press. Vince Lombardi, Tom Landry, and Bill Walsh won the AP’s COTY award once apiece – as many times as Lindy Infante. I’ve given them three Genius Awards each, as they built monster squads from franchises that were laughingstocks before their arrival.

Chuck Noll never won the AP’s coaching award. He earned two from the GridFe, having turned around a woeful Steelers organization and turned them into the famed Steel Curtain dynasty.

 

  1. Yes, I know it was the APFA. It was the NFL is spirit, and that’s what I’m going for.